The Denver Broncos are trying to figure out the best possible starting lineup for the 2015 season. With Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos are serious contenders for the Super Bowl. Time is running out on the Manning era, so Denver needs to put the right talent in place for a championship run.
The offensive line is in a state of upheaval this offseason.
Only one starter, Louis Vasquez, is currently in place from the line that finished the 2014 season—and he’s lining up at a different position. Vasquez finished last year as a right tackle, but he’s moving back inside to his more natural position of right guard this season.
Left tackle, left guard, center and right tackle are all positions up for grabs. The Broncos left guard last year was former right tackle Orlando Franklin. He moved on in free agency earlier this year to play left guard for the San Diego Chargers. This season, Ben Garland could be the player that replaces Franklin.
Garland is the best bet for the Broncos at left guard. In this article, we examine why.
Garland came into the NFL as a defensive tackle out of Air Force in 2010. The Broncos picked him up as an undrafted free agent, but then placed Garland on the reserve/military list on September 4, 2010, to serve his two-year military commitment. When Garland was available for the team in 2012, he did enough in training camp to earn a spot on the practice squad.
Garland was moved to the offensive side of the ball in the 2013 offseason. Under the guidance of former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, he was tutored on how to play offensive guard. It was not a surprise that Garland was put on the practice squad again in 2013 as he continued to learn the nuances of offensive line play.
The Broncos signed Garland to a futures contract early in 2014. He spent the first half of the 2014 season on the inactive list. However, the combinations the Broncos were trying on the offensive line weren’t working as expected, so Garland was active over the last eight games of the season. He got some playing time during those weeks and showed that regular-season snaps were not too much for him to handle.
Denver liked what they saw in Garland so much that they signed him to a one-year exclusive rights free-agent deal early in 2015. Now working in a zone-blocking system under head coach Gary Kubiak, Garland is getting a huge opportunity to prove himself as a starter.
Kubiak absolutely glows when asked about Garland. “He’s a wonderful young man and it’s a great opportunity for him right now with what’s going on with us upfront.”
Garland uses his defensive tackle mentality on the offensive side of the ball. He’s a tenacious player who has a mean streak when on the football field. Garland once got after quarterbacks, but now he protects them with the same fervor.
Kubiak understands the complications when switching from one side of the ball to the other.
“It’s time for Ben to become a player, but we’ve got to find out when the lights come on," Kubiak said. "But he’s doing everything he possibly can do. The fact that he has not played a lot of offensive football too, that was a big change for him.”
Functional strength is not a problem for Garland. He can regularly win at the point of the play because of his strong arms which help him control his man after the snap.
Garland has the athleticism to set up quickly when pass blocking. He understands leverage and knows how to anticipate pass-rushing moves from a defensive lineman—because he used to be one and knows the tricks used on that side of the ball.
The Broncos have some options at left guard to compete with Garland in training camp. Right now, Garland is working with the first-team offensive line during OTAs and minicamp. There will be more competition in training camp when the pads come on.
Garland is looking forward to the competition.
“It’s great. Not only did we get some great draft picks, but we’ve got some great free agents in the offseason," Garland said. "It’s going to be a thick competition and we’re going to have a great offensive line.”
Shelley Smith was added by the Broncos in free agency earlier this year. He signed a two-year, $5.65 million deal with the idea that he could win the starting job at left guard. Smith failed to impress during his time with the Miami Dolphins, but he has plenty of experience working in a zone-blocking system.
Michael Schofield, a third-round pick in 2014, may also get a few looks inside at right guard. He mostly played right tackle during his college career at Michigan, but he did make double-digit starts at right guard for the Wolverines over four seasons. He made the final roster last year, but Schofield wasn’t active for a single game as he struggled with keeping his weight up and adequately blocking in pass protection.
Rookie Max Garcia might be best suited to play inside at guard. He played multiple positions across the offensive line during his college career at both Maryland and Florida. In 2013, he started seven games at left guard and five games at left tackle for the Gators. The center position is likely to come down to either Gino Gradkowski or Matt Paradis, but Garcia could fit nicely at guard.
OTAs Notes and Quotes
During OTAs and minicamp, Garland has been one of the most consistent players as the team goes through drills and practice. While others like Schofield and Paradis have reworked their physiques this offseason, Garland is as big and strong as ever.
He shows a powerful punch in drills. Garland can jar opponents back after the snap, and he has the footwork to push around defenders at the second level of the defense.
The team isn’t wearing pads during minicamp this week, but Garland is showing fantastic athleticism off the line of scrimmage. We already know that he’s tough, and Garland will get a chance to prove himself later this year.
The offseason is leading up to training camp in late July. Is training camp more important for Garland? Kubiak had thoughts on the rest of the offseason and what it means for the team.
“I think it’s more important for all of them. Everybody is moving pretty good this time of year. Everybody is physical at this time of year.” Kubiak pondered, “But once you put the pads on and you get beat down a little bit and the wear and tear takes over, how do you continue to play? How consistent are you? That you’ve got to find out.”
Manning has plenty of confidence in what Garland can do.
“It doesn’t take you long to work out with or be on the field with him to realize what an intense and hard worker he is. I think that’s paid a lot of dividends for him.” Manning continued, “He’s made significant improvements in the time that he’s been here. He’s going to fight and scratch and claw, and those are kind of guys that you like in there with you trying to protect you and trying to help you.”
Garland has been doing a good job in minicamp. He will likely enter training camp as the starter at left guard. If he continues to impress, Garland should be the starter in Week 1 of the regular season.
The Broncos are likely to have an inexperienced left tackle in rookie Ty Sambrailo. Next to him will be an only slightly more experienced player in Garland. Over the course of his career, Garland has only 47 snaps of regular-season experience.
That number of snaps is likely to increase tenfold (or more) this season. He’s excited about the opportunity in front of him this year.
“Absolutely. I love the zone scheme," Garland said. "It’s more lateral movement, quick, being smart and being able to move quickly and get out on blocks.”
Garland is a fan favorite, and he’s always focused on serving his community in many different ways. He’s also one of the most accessible Broncos on social media.
Kubiak is impressed by Garland’s work ethic.
“He’s the greatest kid in the world," Kubiak said. "He works harder than anybody. He’s the first one here, last one to leave. I’ve never been here when I haven’t seen Ben here at 5:15, 5:30 in the morning.”
Hard work pays off, and Garland has been working hard to prove himself on the offensive line. This year, Garland gets his chance to prove himself as a full-time starter for the Broncos. He’s not going to let this team down.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.